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August 29, 2019

Part of this Sunday's Gospel passage seems like a lesson in manners -- it starts out with Jesus noticing how guests chose places of honor for themselves at a dinner party.  It's helpful to remember that in first century Israel, and in the Hellenistic world, dinner parties were huge social occasions: lots of conversation, sharing of news, debates about the important matters of the day. And apparently at this dinner there were seats in the nosebleed section, and then good seats where all the rich and important people sat. At one level Jesus seems to be making a very simple and practical point: if you go sit next to the head table, someone might come along and say, "excuse me, that seat is reserved," and then you have to walk all the way back to that table by the kitchen door. Instead, Jesus says, when you first get to a banquet, come in, take a table over there by the port-a-potties. Then maybe when the host comes, they'll say, "Hey!" what are you doing here? Come on, I've got a place for you up front!" -- and you get the pleasure of being upgraded instead of the humiliation of being downgraded. But of course the passage is more than a lesson in how to avoid embarrassment or achieve recognition in polite society! The rest of the passage pulls it all together and is a lesson about what a faith community whose founder and leader is Jesus should have as its personality and passion. Jesus says "when you give a luncheon or dinner do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, "the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. You will be -and you will experience-a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned at the resurrection of God's people." (MSG) Here we have Jesus lifting our eyes to what a faith community - can and should be - what a church that is dedicated to being followers of Jesus can and should look like. Here and throughout scripture, Jesus is painting us a picture: a picture of the heavenly banquet, God's Kingdom come, God's will being done. It is a place where the normal things that we use to define ourselves - nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, politics - just don't make that much difference. That's part of the value of our outreach programs: yes, the people we serve have their lives improved, but just as important -- maybe even more important -- is that those who serve have their lives transformed - the experience of serving the poor changes us. It's also part of reason we try to practice radical welcome and hospitality: we refuse to fall into the trap of dividing up the community.  We "come up higher" -- we upgrade our lives -- when our eyes are lifted to God's desires, and we transform our behaviors accordingly.  See you Sunday, John

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